Singapore. I’ve wanted to visit ever since I read Lee Kwan Yew’s ‘The Singapore Story‘. The opportunity came up when a church there invited me to visit with a couple of other pastors. So I’m here with Psts. Ken Kamau & George Shiramba of K3C and Nairobi Baptist respectively as well as two other friends from K3C, Charles & Pastor Anne.
I was amazed by the quality & service of flying Thai Airlines from Bangkok (the steward assured me it was way better than Singapore Airlines – sibling rivalry?). My first impression of Singapore is the heat. It hits you like the shimmering wave when you get off the plane in Mombasa on a hot December afternoon. Yet one of our hosts assured us it isn’t even the hot season yet! The other immediate impression is the number of high-rise apartments. I’ve never seen so many in my life! The amazing fact is that 90% of the housing in Singapore is constructed by the government, and then provided at subsidized prices to the populace.
The airport that was rated best in the world a short time ago is partly built on land reclaimed from the sea. The city is the cleanest in the world. And no wonder! A carelessly thrown piece of paper could earn you up to $1000 Singapore dollars (SGD) in fines (rate is 1:1.2 to the USD). Gum chewing/possession (?) is illegal & could earn you a similar fine. And drug trafficking is punishable by death. The red warning on your immigration card says so in bold letters. You get this sobering feeling that they’re not kidding!
The government operates like a corporation and invests public funds, periodically giving dividends to all citizens while also giving a high interest return on citizen’s investment funds. Never heard of anything like it! Then get this; the government charges citizens 100 SGD to enter one of the two permitted casinos, but it’s free for non-citizens. In other words, you can bring in your investment dollars but don’t you dare harm our people!
There’s an amazingly efficient rapid transit system so you can get almost anywhere by train. So they’ve discouraged car ownership through heavy fees and taxes. A Japanese car here could cost you around 6M Ksh! And it’s not just about money. You need to bid for a license to own a car – and you’re not guaranteed to get one. But once you do, black number plates allow you to drive anytime while with red ones you can only drive on weekends. You decide which ones you want but guess which are more expensive! Talk about efficiently controlling traffic volume; Nairobi has not even began to figure this one out.
Okay, I know I’m gushing and that’s not cool. But a spade’s a spade as far as I’m concerned. Fact is these guys got independence from the Brits the same time as Kenya did (31st August 1963) and had about the same democratic space for a long time (basically zero). But their leaders led by the venerable Lee Kwan Yew himself used the power they had for the good of their people. And this little country of 704 km2 (same size as Nairobi ~ 696km2) and 5M people (Nairobi ~ 4M) has as a result done phenomenally well. In a list of the world’s wealthy nations per capita (GDP at purchasing power parity per capita), it ranks 3rd @ 57,238$ (compared to Kenya’s 150th @ 1,784$) stats ~ here
Can’t wait to meet church leaders and see what mutual learning possibilities God brings our way. We’ve gotten a very hospitable reception so far (I was going to say warm but I’ll save that for the weather) and I sense a real passion for people and especially for serving the poor among those I’ve met so far (yes, there are poor people, even here). I have a good sense about the week ahead. I’ll try and update some of my learnings whenever I can.